Movie Review – Insidious: The Last Key

 A poor copy of James Wan’s signature style, The Last Key will suffice when there’s nothing else on Netflix.


⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

It’s been seven years since the original Insidious stormed the box office. A carnival ride that never felt cheap, Insidious was surprisingly good and made director James Wan the closest thing modern horror has to a household name. In the intervening years, the series has churned out two other films, and Wan has moved from classical horror (The Conjuring) to blockbuster fare like Furious 7. Sadly, the Insidious franchise has failed to move forward in his absence. Instead, it’s become steadily more derivative and frustrating, with The Last Key representing the lowest point of Wan’s well-imitated style.

Following the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 (a prequel to the original film), Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) receives a call for help from her childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico. Initially reluctant, Elise is drawn in by the desire to right the wrongs she witnessed (and ran away from) as a child. Tagging along are her now permanent sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), still as annoying as ever. Once there, Elise digs into her past to confront a demon she accidentally freed as a child – Keyface.

The thing about The Last Key is that it’s noisier than it is scary. Aside from a few genuine shocks, director Adam Robitel seems content to blast sound in place of actual horror. A ghost moves down a hallway? Better shred those violins, that’ll make people jump! Akin to a high school bully who punches people for flinching, Last Key’s tricks are exhausting. Making matters worse is a sequence midway through the film where Tucker uses a microphone with horrendous feedback. The charitable view would be to call the sound design unnerving, but it ends up being more painful than scary.

Wan became famous for walking the audience through his haunted houses and letting them become familiar with the layout before populating it with ghosts and ghouls. Last Key doesn’t need that because the house looks exactly like every other one in the franchise. Robitel hasn’t created a new space; he’s just borrowed the same basement and closet that Wan had so much fun with in the first two films. We’re going through the motions here – the bed, the hallway, the door – it’s all been done before and far better elsewhere.

Where Last Key does differentiate itself is in its subtextual concerns – namely abuse and how silence perpetuates it. Keyface physically locks people’s voices and souls away, and (partially) thanks to Elise he’s been doing this for a while now. There’s rich thematic ground there to explore how both individuals and institutions turn a blind eye to real world ghouls, but unfortunately, Robitel fails to see that potential and instead keeps throwing frustrating noise scares at you.

We live in the era of #timesup and #metoo, but Last Key isn’t thoughtful enough to be included in that conversation. As it stands, it’ll do fine as something to pass the time when it inevitably arrives on streaming services, but will ultimately end up remembered as the low point of the Insidious franchise – the last gasp of a series that was running out of breath two films ago.

Insidious: The Last Key is available in Australian cinemas from February 8 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures


Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017

Movie Review – The Snowman

Tomas Alfredson’s thriller The Snowman starts out solid, but quickly melts into a murky puddle.

⭐ ⭐ 
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Based on the book of the same name by Jo Nesbø, The Snowman sees Michael Fassbender play Harry Hole; a hard-boiled, yet scruffy detective who, like many of his ilk, is an alcoholic, chain-smoking insomniac who only has something to live for when he has a case to dedicate himself too. As luck would have it, a case lands in his lap when Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) rolls into town with a cold case that needs thawing out.

If, like me, you were hankering for a slick Scandinavian thriller packed to the rafters with grisly killings then you’ll find that need only serviced by half; The Snowman is undeniably gory and macabre, with limbs and decapitations left, right and centre. What it clearly lacks is polish, with the cinematography feeling flat and pallid, the editing disjointed and the overall execution sorely lacking across the board.

The script, penned by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup, can be commended for not spoon-feeding audiences exposition, but joining the dots is something of a chore when the narrative lurches from scene to scene with little forward momentum to speak of. The editing is the guilty culprit here, entering and ending scenes in odd ways and robbing the film of that all-important rhythm that keeps you engrossed.

Strangely, Alfredson often chooses to shoot a number of scenes from a distance, such as through a window from the outside looking in. It creates an icy detachment to the characters at a point where we should be getting under their skin and learning to care for their troubles. Ultimately, The Snowman is deathly boring, especially during its meandering second act.

Fassbender is a good fit for the role but is given very little to work with outside of the cookie-cutter cop archetype. The same can be said of Ferguson, who has an interesting arc until it freezes, dead in its tracks. JK Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloë Sevigny and (weirdly) Val Kilmer complete an ensemble in which no one truly shines.

The Snowman will sorely disappoint anyone holding out for a taut and compelling thriller in the same vein as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Se7en. In the hands of a maestro like David Fincher this concept could have gone the distance, but as it stands, the creative team it has been lumped with haven’t made it work, and the result is a squelchy and cold procedural that is leagues below TV fare like Broadchurch or Top of the Lake. My recommendation is to let this one wash away and be forgotten.

The Snowman is available in Australian cinemas from October 19 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Happy Death Day

Live. Die. Repeat… wait, where have we heard that one before?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) awakens hungover on her birthday in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), a boy she doesn’t remember going home with the prior night. Heading home, she goes about her day and tries (mostly unsuccessfully) to enjoy her birthday, until, on her way to a party that night, she’s tormented by a mysterious masked assailant and promptly stabbed to death… until she wakes up once again on the morning of her birthday, back in the dorm room. Jessica soon discovers she’s stuck in a perpetual loop, forced to relive the same day (and her subsequent death) over and over until she can solve who her murderer is and put a stop to them.

It was only a matter of time before the high concept of something like Groundhog Day became a free-for-all for Hollywood to milk. It’s actually quite surprising that it’s taken this long. Apparently a fit for any genre, the results so far have been both surprisingly good (sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow) and ponderously feeble (tween anti-bullying PSA Before I Fall). Happy Death Day sits somewhere in the middle of that scale, though thankfully it’s a little closer to the unexpectedly decent end.

That said, don’t expect anything overly thought-provoking; there’s no denying that HDD is an unashamedly daft and daffy time that invites you to turn off your brain and just roll with it. This is an easy and enjoyable enough task, thanks largely to its best asset – the attractive, fresh-faced Jessica Rothe, who has graduated from a small part in La La Land to leading lady. She balances the terror and confusion of her doomed situation with a healthy amount of charm and humour that earns her appeal, and even manages to challenge the stereotypes usually associated with the female victim in slasher flicks.

This is the other startle; it’s genuinely quite funny throughout, with an unexpectedly quirky and bizarre sense of humour keeping it consistently amusing and entertaining. There’s even a few small emotional moments involving Tree coping with her mother’s death and reconciling with her father that don’t feel forced.

Given his bad to so-so previous films (including Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), Happy Death Day is at least a confident step in the right direction for director Christopher Landon. It’s unashamedly trashy, and not all that original, especially given how creative the horror genre has proven to be the last couple of years, but it is good fun, and throws in just enough curveballs to feel fresh and engaging enough to kill an hour and a half. And to its credit, it at least uses a punchline to acknowledge its resemblance to Groundhog Day.

Happy Death Day is available in Australian cinemas from October 12 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – mother!

The tagline “You have no idea where this movie will take you” says it all – mother! more than earns its exclamation mark.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

A nameless woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives a life of peace and tranquillity in an isolated country home with her similarly anonymous poet husband (Javier Bardem). Their days are leisurely passed with her painting and renovating the house while he works on his written masterpiece, until one day a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep looking for a place to stay. The wife is unimpressed when her husband gladly accepts, and less so when the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up to board with him. The stranger’s bizarrely rude and erratic behaviour, and its influence on her husband is just the beginning of her torment: there’s many, many more unwelcome guests to come as all hell breaks loose.

“What the fuck?!” is something you’ll no doubt be exclaiming, or at least thinking a number of times throughout Darren Aronofsky’s mother! That’s right, the master of stressfully intense character dramas is back, and well and truly on form again after the disappointment of Noah. His latest rivals even Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan as his most viscerally extreme, WTF force of nature.

Like those cinematic nightmares, mother! puts its central character through a metaphorical meat grinder, continuing Aronofsky’s recurring motif of naïve women suffering for their optimism and hopeful attitude. It’s slow building, with Aronofsky creating a sanctuary for his two lovers before infesting it with the unpredictable couple that infect their paradise. It’s then that the house becomes oppressive and claustrophobic, practically imprisoning… to say much more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say this is some of the most batshit crazy stuff to come out of a studio film.

It seems almost a shame that its director and star confirmed it as a Biblical allegory, since it really feels like there could be multiple ways to interpret this purposefully ambiguous thrill ride. Aronofsky destroys cinema conventions and genre while twisting them into and abominable horror and satire, while spiritually condemning human beings for their sins; namely their chief sin of existence.

Scaling back to another level though, it’s tempting to view this as a metaphor for the struggles of fame and how destructive and toxic it can be on its subjects. The swarms of people that invade the house have no sense of personal space, secrecy or morality, and are capable of doing awful things to the people they supposedly worship, coming off very much like crazed paparazzi and fans. It’s all too appropriate given that Jennifer Lawrence is at the centre of all this; having faced a similar invasion of privacy as her nudes were leaked a few years ago, it’s no doubt she’s channelled much of her own stress and horror into her performance.

Which brings us to J-Law herself. She’s spent most of her relatively short career in the tween-pleasing feminine heroes of The Hunger Games and X-Men, and roles in self-indulgent David O. Russell Oscar-bait. Finally, she seems to have grown out of the annoying “so-quirky-and-relatable” persona and matured into a real actress, delivering on the excellence she promised way back in Winter’s Bone. Here, she confidently handles the rollercoaster of emotions as hell is unleashed upon her. Lawrence famously cracked a rib while hyperventilating in the film’s climactic scenes; it’s not hard to see why.

Upsetting, shocking, brilliant, abhorrent… there’s thousands of words that could be used to describe Aronofsky’s technical masterpiece of mayhem, but simply, it’s unlike just about anything else out there. There’s no questioning that this is a love it or hate it experience, but regardless of opinion a stunned silence is no doubt guaranteed. That, and exclaiming “What the fuck?!”

mother! is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – It

Pennywise is back and he ain’t clowning around this time

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Based on Stephen King’s popular novel of the same name, Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of It sees the town of Derry, Maine terrorised by a demonic clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). With a growing number of children strangely missing, unravelling the mystery of their disappearance falls to a group of young outsiders who call themselves the Losers Club.

If you’re expecting to be scared silly, It might not be what you’re looking for. Truth is, it’s more of an adventure than a straightforward horror, with a vibe more closely matched with Netflix’s recent nostalgia fest Stranger Things. There is still a dark edge to proceedings, but nothing here scared me in the same way The Conjuring 2 or The Witch did.

The line between gruesome and goofy is one that gets increasingly blurred as the film goes on, with the third act in particular becoming increasingly comical as Pennywise darts back and forth like a demented Ronald McDonald. The camerawork and editing here is disorienting to say the least, as limbs spin and spiral to the point that it is genuinely hard to follow what is happening.

The film is definitely more at ease with itself when the horror takes a backseat and the action focuses in on its magnetic cast of dynamic youngsters. There is something about them that meshes so well, giving It a warmth and energy that is hard to replicate or manufacture. Finn Wolfhard’s character is the undoubted standout – his cocksure and bespectacled Ritchie provides comic relief by the barrowful – whilst Sophia Lillis makes for a compelling Sissy Spacek meets Molly Ringwald heroine. Her sweet romance with Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the beating heart of this film.

There are few weak links, namely Wyatt Oleff’s Stanley, but it is refreshing for a film to be so wholeheartedly committed to its focus on a younger cast. Not once does It cut away to an authority figure or adult character; this is all about the kids and it is because of their brilliance that the film is worth checking out.

It is an uncommon occurrence in that it is a big-budget studio horror that doesn’t play it too safe; it is very gory in parts, has lots of swearing and the themes are heavy, especially surrounding Lillis’ character. It isn’t perfect – it is a little long and the jumps are signposted pretty clearly – but it has a little bit of something for everyone, whether that’s gooey monsters, young romance or the slavish period setting.

It is available in Australian cinemas from September 7 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Annabelle: Creation

The wheels on the Conjuring cinematic universe continue to turn in the perfectly passable spin-off prequel Annabelle: Creation.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Annabelle: Creation, the second spin-off on the possessed demonic doll, shifts to an earlier period to chart her terrifying origins. The plot sees rural dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) open their home to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphaned girls who are in need of a place to stay, but a dark secret from their past threatens to return to the fold and turn the peaceful ranch into a house of horrors.

With David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) at the helm, Annabelle: Creation successfully captures the same old school thrills and spills of the original Conjuring films, with everything from the period setting to the relatively slow pacing feeling decidedly old fashioned. The two main cast members – Talitha Bateman as a disabled girl called Janice and Lulu Wilson as her caring best friend Linda – are both effective leads and do a wonderful job of carrying the film, as the adult cast takes a backseat for most of the 109-minute runtime.

Sandberg’s direction is also a highlight; the relative newcomer mixes minimal CGI with focus pulls that engulf the frame in darkness and force the viewer to scan the screen for even the slightest hint of creepy goings-on. This is a film where the camerawork, editing and cinematography effectively draw you into the story, even if everything about the colour-by-numbers plot feels familiar.

Essentially Annabelle: Creation is a ghostly haunted house ride that runs on the rails and provides an intermittent, albeit predictable, jump scare or two before rolling back into the light of day so you can scurry along to the next amusement. You’ll be shifting in your seat and peering through your eyelashes while you’re in the theatre, but there really isn’t anything meaty to get your teeth into once you peel back the clever camera tricks.

Great horror films are often heralded as such because they make you unsettled in your very core as well as making your skin crawl; think of recent successes such as It Follows, The Babadook and The Witch. Unfortunately, Annabelle: Creation is more generic than this list and ends up placing somewhere firmly in the middle of the horror movie spectrum. Good but not great, I’d only recommend checking it out at the theatre if you’re a sucker for The Conjuring series and its lore or schlocky and clichéd horror in general.

Annabelle: Creation is available in Australian cinemas from August 10

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – It Comes At Night

A24 – the production company behind The Witch, Green Room and Tusk – continues to rescue the horror genre with the brooding and brain-befuddling It Comes at Night.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

The world has been plagued by an extremely contagious disease, forcing a surviving family – Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) to live isolated in a house deep within the woods. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home claiming to be seeking supplies for his own wife and son, Paul is initially untrustworthy and intends to kill him. After some convincing he agrees to let Will’s family live with them temporarily, but suspicion, allegations, assumptions and the visions that haunt Travis at night soon create a great deal of tension between the families.

It would seem apt to recommend going into It Comes at Night with as little knowledge about it as possible, but the truth is you’re just as likely to come out the other side with as few scraps of information as what you went in with. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ (Krisha) second feature is ambiguous in every sense of the word, straight up avoiding anything resembling exposition, convention, backstory or explanation.

What Shults does make clear is his masterwork in atmosphere. Here’s a man with a deep understanding of what it takes to stage a successfully terrifying ambience, fully capable of suspense-building restraint and an awareness that the unknown is often far scarier than what we’re given. Things as simple as a dog barking at something we can’t see in the distant woods, or the red door that lurks at the end of a darkened corridor are dripping with dread, more often than not because we don’t know what lies beyond.

Subtle technical ticks are used to great effect, particularly the shift to a tighter aspect ratio whenever Travis experiences one of his horrifying visions. It’s such a tiny thing, but the mere sight of night coming and those black bars sliding slowly into place is enough to induce fear that something nasty is about to happen.

Shults is helped by a very game cast, especially Joel Edgerton in another apprehensive, dialled-back performance, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who will soon no doubt owe his breakout success to this. But Shults’ film is ultimately defined by two things – its unsettling feel and imagery, and the endless barrage of questions you’re left with afterwards.

For better or worse, it’s down to our own personal interpretation and what we choose to make of it. In this sense, It Comes at Night can’t quite manage the satisfaction of say, The Witch, but it is a breathlessly tense 90-minute terror ride.

It Comes At Night is available in Australian cinemas from July 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films


Movie Review – Hounds of Love

If you can stomach it, the trip to hell that is Hounds of Love is another chilling entry in the Australian suburban nightmare, and an impressive calling card for local filmmaker Ben Young.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

In 1980’s Perth, suburbanites go about their lives blissfully unaware that teenage girls are being abducted, sexually abused and murdered by a deeply disturbed married couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). 17-year-old Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is not coping well with her parents’ divorce, and one night sneaks out to head to a party. On the way she encounters the Whites, and in an innocent lapse in judgement is lured back to their, only to find herself chained to a bed and the next victim of the psychotic couple’s sick tradition.

Australian cinema tends to gravitate towards certain genres in which it finds expertise and innovation – primarily horror and familial melodrama. With local talent Ben Young’s thrilling directorial debut Hounds of Love, we’re about to become famed for another one – thrillers centred around kidnapping and hostage-holding. Being released so close to the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome naturally draws immediate comparisons, but never to its detriment; Young’s film is unique enough and equally excellent in its own right.

Set quite literally in our own backyard, it’s chilling to think that a killer couple like this could be lurking right next door, and given their typical bogan demeanour, it’s highly believable too. Young ups the unpleasant levels to an uneasy extreme, and yet the film rarely feels gratuitous; much of the violence happens just out of frame, and we’re only given hints of the horrific sexual abuse, leaving it largely up to our imagination to conjure up the disturbing images. It’s effectively uncomfortable.

Unlike Teresa Palmer, who was given a more complex love-hate relationship with her tormentor in Berlin Syndrome, Ashleigh Cummings’ Vicki is a more straightforward captive, simply (and naturally) terrified to be held against her will. Fortunately, she’s an excellent scream queen, and is granted depth through her rocky relationship with her divorced parents, particularly her mother (a small but memorable part for Susie Porter).

A seedily-moustached Stephen Curry is detestably monstrous as John; his typically comedic acting sensibility turned on its ear in an intimidating turn as the chief perpetrator. Calm on the surface but capable of truly heinous things, he brings to mind Snowtown’s John Bunting. He’s the scene-stealer, but it’s Emma Booth in the most rewarding role as his madly-in-love but psychologically tormented and conflicted wife Evelyn. She’s massively layered, so crazy for John’s affection and desperate for children that she obeys his every twisted command, but simultaneously can’t escape her sympathy for Vicki, jealousy and contempt of John’s attraction to the younger girl. Booth is terrific at balancing all of this, and her arc is satisfying to watch unfold.

Granted, it can’t help but feel like it’s travelling along the lines of most movies about captors and captives at times, but Hounds of Love is among the genre’s most macabre. It’s frequently tense and unrelenting right up to (and especially in) its squirm-worthy finale. Ben Young knows how to make audiences dig their fingers into their armrests; Hollywood will no doubt know it soon too.

Hounds of Love is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution